Rice industry crisisAs the challenges in the rice industry continue, it is believed that the intervention of Government will likely bring some relief to the plight of farmers, many of whom were forced to abandon the industry.On Monday, Guyana Times spoke with several farmers who reside in Leguan and Wakenaam in the Essequibo River and at Mahaicony, East Coast Demerara. They are calling on Government to provide assistance to reduce the scarcity in seed paddy, to advocate for better prices for paddy and to implement measures to compel rice millers to disburse outstanding payments to farmers.LeguanRice farmer Mahendra TularamAt Leguan, the situation related can be described as dire as many farmers on the island have been owed for almost two years. According to them, the current price cannot suffice for many to remain in the industry even though there have been favourable weather conditions.“$1500 a bag can’t work out, it can’t really pay,” related one female farmer. She also explained that she and her husband had no option other than to “rent out” some of their lands to other farmers while the remainder was converted into a pasture for sheep and cows.Guyana Times understands that the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) reportedly obtained money from the farmers in Leguan, “some months ago” to take court action against the rice miller, but the case was never pursued. The farmers then had to take private action by hiring an attorney and the miller in the area has been served notice of the legal action.In February, farmer Mahendra Tularam claimed that he was owed $730,000 by the miller since March 2015. He had called on Government to enforce the Rice Factory Act which he felt would compel millers to pay what is owed to farmers. It was explained that under this Act, millers are mandated to pay half of farmers’ money in two weeks and the rest in 42 days.WakenaamFollowing a series of reports by this newspaper that farmers were not being paid for their paddy, rice farmers in Wakenaam were paid all of their outstanding payments for the last crop. This welcomed situation was short-lived, as the farmers continue to face high production costs.At present, rice farmers are receiving between $1500 and $2200 per bag of paddy, and many have said that this was not profitableAccording to information received by Guyana Times on Monday, the dry weather caused a rapid increase in price for seed paddy which is used for planting of fresh rice crops.“NAREI [National Agricultural Research & Extension Institute] told farmers that they don’t have enough seed paddy to give farmers,” one stakeholder posited. The scarcity of seed paddy has led to a decrease in the acreage planted. This publication was told only half of the island’s 5000 acres was cultivated. Further, in areas such as Plantation Friendship and Zeelandia, there was no planting of rice for the current crop.It was further explained that Wakenaam has no fixed buyer so farmers have to stand their own transportation costs. As such, the $2200 they are receiving for paddy “can’t pay”. Additionally, one farmer who normally plants between 180 and 200 acres opted against rice cultivation for this crop which means that many on the island are without employment.MahaiconyIn Mahaicony, the situation is similar as farmers who suffered in the prolonged dry conditions are still suffering as the non-payment from millers is threatening their livelihood. Guyana Times was told that many could not return to their fields for the next crop.Astraf Ally and his wife, Sharmilla, stated that they were owed over $2 million. This they say came with the collapse of the lucrative Petro-Caribe (rice-for-oil) Venezuela deal last year, which many believe might have increased their earnings in terms of the price per bag of paddy.Deonarine Sasenarine, who usually plants 150 acres, will not be cultivating rice this upcoming crop because of the low prices in the industry. He explained that the miller in his area owes him some $7 million.SubsidiesAt present, rice farmers are receiving between $1500 and $2200 per bag of paddy, and many have said that this was not profitable.Meanwhile, other farmers are calling on Government to provide assistance via subsidies on fertiliser and equipment.Shadow Finance Minister Irfaan Ali, in a presentation to the National Assembly, had called for the removal of taxes and duties on fuel for the industry, and the removal of all taxes and duties on machinery, equipment and spares.Though the PetroCaribe deal was due for expiration in November of 2015, Venezuela axed the rice deal months before as relations soured between Guyana and that nation. This deal saw Guyanese farmers receiving premium rates for their paddy.